Pakistan’s authorities have struck a deal with a hard-line Islamic extremists to end mass protests over the acquittal of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. As part of the deal, continued proceedings will bar Asia Bibi from leaving the country.
BBC (via TROP) The government will also not prevent protesters legally challenging the Supreme Court decision to release her. Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, but was acquitted earlier this week. The ruling enraged Muslim extremists in the majority-Muslim country.
Blasphemy charges against the woman were leveled after she allegedly angered Muslim farm workers by taking a sip of water from a cup she had fetched for them on a hot day. When they demanded she convert to Islam, she refused, prompting a mob to later allege that she had insulted the prophet Mohammed.
Hardliners who support Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been taking to the streets since Wednesday’s ruling. Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told the BBC, “We had two options: either to use force, and when you use force people can be killed. That is not something a state should do… We tried negotiations and (in) negotiations you take something and you leave something.”
He defended the agreement against allegations the government was capitulating to extremists: “We need to take steps against extremism, we need to take steps against such kind of violent protesters and we need to come up with a permanent solution. Right now this is not a cure. This is firefighting, what we are doing. The cure is the real thing and our government is committed to the cure.”
He clarified that the decision on whether or not to bar Asia Bibi from leaving the country would be made by a court, and added the government would “take all steps necessary” to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety.
It was reached between the government and the Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP) party, which led the mass protests, local media report. Under the agreement, as well as beginning legal proceedings to put Asia Bibi on a list which would ban her from leaving Pakistan, the government will also not block a review petition filed against the verdict.
The deal also envisages that all protesters arrested since Asia Bibi’s acquittal will be released, and any violence towards them will be investigated.
Speaking to the BBC this week, her lawyer Saiful Mulook said she would need to move to a Western country for her own safety. Several countries have offered her asylum.